MOGADISHU, Somalia — African Union and Somali militants traded barrages in Mogadishu Friday as union forces feared that al-Shabab militants may attack camps that house tens of thousands of famine refugees in the Somali capital and disrupt the distribution of food aid.
Somalia’s president appealed for more international aid, saying the government can’t feed the overwhelming number suffering from famine.
An offensive to push the militant front line farther back from the camps began Thursday. The African Union and Somali troops have fought al-Shabab all year and have gained a large swath of territory in Mogadishu.
But the fight took on new importance as tens of thousands of famine refugees began squatting in squalid, hunger-filled refugee camps here.
President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed said his government has established several refugee camps but that his country needs urgent help because it can’t support the level of aid needed. Mr. Ahmed also said the military has weakened al-Shabab, and that “soon they will be defeated.”
The spokesman went further, saying the famine response from aid agencies “is too slow” and that the crisis is even more severe than the United Nations has said.
He noted that diseases are spreading through the camps.
The drought and the famine it has caused in Somalia have affected more than 11 million people, including 2.2 million Somalis who live in al-Shabab controlled territory in south-central Somalia, where aid groups can’t deliver food.
Thousands are crammed into refugee camps in the capital. Though the masses arrived to find food, many are not yet being fed, leading to untold deaths in the camps.
A second U.N. plane landed in Mogadishu with more than 20 tons of nutritional supplements on board. A Kuwait Air Force transport plane also landed and off-loaded sacks of food. The World Food Program said with its second delivery it has airlifted nearly 31 tons of ready-to-use food into Mogadishu.